Once a Sea Eagle, always a Sea Eagle – A Chat with Manly legend Mark Bryant
Mark Bryant was a hard-working Prop who could dish out the hits as big as he got them. He had a long and decorated career spanning over 230 games proudly representing all of the Raiders and Sea Eagles in the NRL, + the Crusaders and Broncos in the ESL. His crowning achievement coming when Manly victoriously claimed the 2008 Telstra NRL Premiership 40 points to nil over arch-rivals the Melbourne Storm.
He was nice enough to chat to me about his career spanning right from a being a young 17-year old in Canberra right through to his final days in London. And as well as that, a bit about the Sea Eagles and the game itself at the moment. Cheers to a good bloke who will forever be considered a Manly legend.
Q: Let’s rip right into the big stuff. Melbourne’s stripped Premierships, should’ve they been awarded to Manly and Parramatta respectively? Or left blank?
A: “I think it’s tough for the players. I don’t think all the players knew what was going on. Not all of them were getting the whole benefit of being paid extras. And not everyone knows everyone’s business. So, from a player’s point of view, I feel bad for them. The administrators got what they deserve. Certainly, in 2007, they were a million dollars over the salary cap and they flogged us. In 2008 they were still a million dollars over the salary cap and we beat them 40-0. So, for me, it just makes the 2008 Grand Final so much more sweeter. But I would find it hard to accept a Premiership in which we were beaten convincingly.”
Q: When the Crusaders were disbanded after the 2011 season, was that a stressful experience for you at all being overseas without a club? And were you ever genuinely worried about your future in the game of Rugby League throughout that period?
A: “Basically, what had happened with the Crusaders was that they had been paying us half of our wages. The rest of it was supposed to go into a pension fund. I wasn’t ever worried that I wouldn’t find another club because I already knew there was some interest out there. They basically lied to us the whole way through. The RFL knew what was going on and I suppose gave them an option to get out of it. When we look back at it now, myself 70,000 pounds, not that I’ll ever get it back, I don’t stress about it anymore, I’ve written it off. It was really poorly run. The whole way it was handled particularly from the RFL was really poor.”
Q: Now let’s talk about 2007 and 08. In the 07 Grand Final, Manly went down 34-8 to Melbourne in what was a fairly tough encounter for yourself and your team-mates. What were the emotions like at full-time and was this clash something that was used as motivation to smash Melbourne the next year?
A: “Yeah no it definitely was. You can’t explain how terrible that feeling is after basically getting flogged in a Grand Final. It was definitely motivation for the next year, we sorta kept everything under wraps and all the boys wanted to get out there and right the wrongs so to speak.”
Q: Proceed to the 2008 Grand Final and in celebrating a Centenary of Rugby League, you (Manly) won by a record 40-0 score-line. What was that encounter like for you both physically and mentally? And how good did it feel to send club legends such as Steve ‘Beaver’ Menzies and Steve Bell out on a high, while it was also your final match for the club as well?
A: “It was unbelievable. It sort of took a while to sink in, especially the actual score-line. I just remember the celebrations on the field, in the sheds, on the bus on the way home, at the leagues club and probably for the next week after that. It was a great way to go and of course ‘Beaver’ getting that try was just fitting for a good mate and for someone who has carried himself as well as he has at the top level for the Sea Eagles his whole career. As you can see by the footage when he scored the whole team was so pumped for him to get that and go out on a Grand Final victory. Something which a player of his calibre most definitely deserved.”
Q: Talking about amazing memories, who is the toughest player you’ve ever played with or against and likewise for the best?
A: “One of the toughest would be Ruben Wiki, just such a great person and someone that helped shape me at the Raiders. Just an unbelievable competitor. Guys like Gordon Tallis and Cameron Smith. I played with the likes of Ben Kennedy who was tough, and Anthony Watmough, unbelievably tough. Glenn Stewart had it all. A bit of a broad spectrum there. I played with a lot of great players in my day which is awesome and plenty of those at Manly as well.”
Q: Throughout your career, you played under the masterful minds of Matthew Elliot, Des Hasler, Brian Noble and other esteemed coaches. Who taught you the most? And who were the easiest and most difficult to play under?
A: “Des is definitely the best coach I’ve had. I think that he just understood each player and the individual skill sets that they brought. He also just knew every team aka ‘The Mad Professor’. We had the game plan there and we’d go out and execute it. Brian Noble gave a great motivational speech. Matt Elliot, the skills, the passing, the real basics of the game I got from him. Definitely Des hands down the best coach for me. I think he’s one of the best of his era.”
Q: Talking more about your time on the field, how would you describe the early parts of your career with the Raiders? This given that they never missed the finals from 2002-04, but also that you were only able to get seven matches in for them?
A: “I came and signed for the Raiders out of high school with a lot of hype around me. But eventually, I always knew I’d have to leave there if I wanted to make it. I remember sitting down with Matt Elliot and he said he thought that I’d be a Reserve Grade player and that I’d only play a couple of games here and there. And obviously, I disagreed with that, so we shook hands and I walked out and signed with the Sea Eagles. I used that as motivation for the next 4 or 5 years to really kick on.”
Q: From 2009-13, you then spent the next and final part of your career over in England representing the Crusaders and the Broncos. How did the level of competition compare to that of the NRL? And how difficult was it to change your lifestyle over to a completely different country in a completely different part of the world?
A: “From going to playing for the Sea Eagles who were the best team in the competition because we had just won the Grand Final to a team that was starting out in terms of the Crusaders just coming into the Super League, that was a huge challenge for me just because it was a completely different style of Footy that they played. Over there we were one of the lesser teams, so it was actually a huge game for us every weekend. I don’t think the intensity is as tough as what the NRL is week in week out. The English brand of Football is a more attacking style, whereas there’s a lot more wrestle in the NRL, and it’s more defence based.”
“Adjusting to life over there wasn’t too bad. The first few months were a little bit funny. My wife was actually four-months pregnant with my little boy when we moved over there. That sort of kept us busy for a lot of it. “
Q: Did you ever play any other position other than Prop growing up or throughout your career? Or did you always feel most well-suited there?
A: “I think I maybe played two games out of there. One was when I was 15 in the Centres. And I started one in England on the left-edge in the backrow. I felt most comfortable in the middle.”
Q: When you look back over your career, do you have any regrets, or are you pretty happy with how it all turned out?
A: “Sometimes where I overthought things and didn’t take risks as much as what I probably could’ve. I played 230 first-grade games across Australia and Europe. I think all in all I was happy with what I did. Could I have done more, maybe, but hey we’ll never know? So, there’s no point looking back on it in that way.”
Q: Opinion time. Unfortunately, for the NRL, some players seem to have a little bit of trouble with the law off the field. Does more need to be done to educate today’s players with regards to proper behaviour within the public eye?
A: “For me, I wish the media would publicise more of the good news with some of the stuff that these guys do in the community. But unfortunately, the bad news sells better than good news. It’s a bit of a poor thing about society these days. I think that players need to show a bit of common sense. It’s definitely about the clubs and the NRL in particular making sure that the players are educated in the right way in terms of how to handle situations. They earn a very good wage, so for that, there comes a lot of responsibility as well. And they certainly need to be role models to the next generation. Unfortunately, you can’t control the amount of idiots that are out there trying to provoke these guys or that are trying to get their own faces in the paper or that a trying to make a quick buck out of it.”
Q: And to finish us off, how do you think Manly will fare next season and what needs to be done to make Brookie Oval (Lottoland) a fortress once again?
A: “They’ll definitely go better I feel. I think this year there was a lot of injuries, particularly Tom Trbojevic being out for a significant part of the year and being a key player for us. It would’ve been like taking Brett Stewart out of it in my day when I played. He’s such an integral part of the team and our main strike power. (Kieran ‘Foz’ Foran) He’s really excited about being back, about linking up with Daly. He’s looking forward to getting back out there, making a difference and pulling Manly back to where we need to be.”
Having people such as Mark still involved within the club through the Golden Eagles and over avenues is crucial to the Sea Eagles success. He is a core part of the Sea Eagles successful history and is needed to help that continue and live long into the future. And if you’re a Manly fan, let’s hope that they can get back onto their feet, or wings, for the 2021 campaign.